"Won't Anybody Listen to Me?"
Everybody's [Cincinnati] News    Apr  '97

by Alan Sculley

Fiona Apple feels her pain - and wants to tell you about it

Fiona Apple says she's enjoying her music career these days.  This shouldn't stand out as an earth-shattering declaration -- after all, Apple is all of 19 years old, and already her debut CD, Tidal, has gone gold and produced a hit single in "Shadowboxer." That should be enough to make any debut artist smile.

Apple was only 18 when she recorded Tidal.  A friend of hers had passed her demo tape along to music publicist Kathryn Schenker, who was so impressed by the maturity and intensity of Apple's music that she, in turn, gave the tape to Andy Slater, who signed on the young singer/songwriter and helped her get a deal with Work Records.

The songs on the CD reflect the turmoil of Apple's life.  And while her lyrics usually don't describe specific events -- the glaring exception is "Sullen Girl," which makes reference to her being raped when she was eleven -- they do capture the feelings of confusion, alienation, anger and loneliness that typified Apple's youth.

Now, when Apple talks about her life and her initial expectations for music, it's clear her contentment is newfound.

"I'm not in this because this is my childhood dream," Apple says of her career.  "It sounds like bullshit, but I really never wanted this.  When I first met Andy (Slater) and he was telling me about going on tour and what we were going to do and everything, I would smile and I would nod and I would say, 'Oh, that's great.'  And I would go home and cry because I never wanted to go on tour.  I never wanted to go into the studio.  I never wanted to do any of this.  But I have to.  It's like a sick kind of psychological need that I need to get my stuff out there.  These are things I needed to have said and the only way that I can really feel satisfied is to have it be heard, to say it as loud as I can and make sure it's all said."

Apple was four years old when her parents, actor Brandon Maggart and former dancer and singer Diana McAfee, split up.  Afterwards, she spent most of her time in Manhattan with her mother.  Given the artistic interests of her parents, it's not surprising that one of her early pursuits was playing the piano.  But, somewhat by necessity, her greatest passion became the written word.

"Writing was just always my way of expressing myself to everyone," she says.  "I would have a fight with my parents, and when speaking to them failed I would go and write a letter to them.  That was what worked for me more than anything.  It's very important for me to be understood.  If I have something I want to say, I have to say it and I have to know that I've said it right and you've got the message. Writing was really the only way to ensure that."

Being understood, however, was very difficult for Apple.  As a child, she had few friends, had trouble fitting in at school and found it nearly impossible to communicate her thoughts to her parents and teachers.

"I was never taken seriously when I said things," Apple adds.  "I mean, I can remember -- when you're a smart kid, or you're just a very sensitive kid, and you have a lot that you need to say that's very important to you, people don't really take you seriously -- I can remember being so frustrated, just constantly to the point of tears.  I think the thing that I said most in my life for the first ten years was 'Just listen to me. Listen.'  And even when I say that now, I always have a little flashback from those years, because I had so much trouble being taken seriously.  I can remember people saying, 'You're twelve, Fiona,' and just disregarding everything I had to say.  All of my very deep, intense, serious worries and fears and wonders were just kind of disregarded because I was a kid and I was crazy and I was weird."  Apple's parents sent her to therapists, which did nothing except aggravate her feelings of unhappiness.

"I don't think that it's anyone's fault. I think that my parents did what they had to do because people were worried about me," says Apple.  "Whether or not they were right, my parents really couldn't say 'Oh no, she's fine. We don't need to send her to therapy.'  Because if I wasn't fine, then that would be a huge mistake.  People thought in my school that I was suicidal because I didn't have friends and I refused to go to school.  But I do think that being put in therapy unwillingly is always a bad thing.  I think it really screwed me up and I'll be screwed up for the rest of my life because of it."

Throughout her teens, Apple channeled her thoughts and frustrations into writing and some of her words got adapted to melodies she composed on the piano.  For many years this was just a private activity, but three years ago, she decided music was the only career she could envision for herself.

"I am not somebody who sits around and writes songs for fun," Apple claims.  "It's not like a hobby for me.  It's just a natural reaction to life.  I've always thought about it this way.  This is just what I am.  It's like cows make milk and humans inhale and exhale and I make songs."

Apple has been compared to Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos.  But those comparisons don't hold up.  Apple's lyrics are more subtle and insightful than Morissette's and she's far less cryptic than Amos.  Musically, the dusky-voiced Apple has also forged her own identity, with songs that range from the haunting pop of "Shadowboxer" to jazz-tinged ballads such as "Slow Like Honey" to the bluesy groove of "Criminal."  Apple credits Slater with playing a key role in translating her ideas into the finished songs on Tidal.

"It really wasn't that well planned out, because going into this I knew so little about music and instruments," Apple says of the CD.   "I mean, I knew what I wanted things to sound like, but I didn't know how to say that.  So, I could just say I want this kind of sound or I want this song to feel like this.  And Andy would really translate what I would say into musical language."  fin